Front page

Are you afraid of the dark?

(Click to invert colors, weenie.) (Requires JavaScript.)

All email will be assumed to be for publication unless otherwise requested.

What's in the banner?

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Enemies on the Right, Non-Enemies on the Left

Tim Blair praises this Julie Burchill column in the Guardian. Warbloggers will love it; she mocks the ostentatious selflessness of Susan Sarandon and Co. She really hands them their heads on a silver platter with their own exquisite pity as a garnish.

But she's full of shit:

Those who demonstrated against US aggression in Vietnam and Cuba did so because they believed that those people should have more freedom, not less.

Hmmm...Vietnam...Cuba...Cuba...Vietnam. What do those places have in common? Besides "American aggression". Oh, yeah! Communism! American "aggression" in both those places was meant to stop Communism, to save people from exactly the sort of misery that has Julie Burchill so indignant when experienced by Iraqis.

Funny how both Burchill and her enemies, the Americans, had the same goals for the Vietnamese and the Cubans.

In the next paragraph she takes on the Beautiful Peace People:

I've just heard a snippet of the most disgustingly me-me-me anti-war advert by Susan Sarandon, in which she intones, "Before our kids start coming home from Iraq in body bags, and women and children start dying in Baghdad, I need to know - what did Iraq do to us?" Well, if you mean what did Saddam do to America The Beautiful, not an awful lot - but to millions of his own people, torture and murder for a start. Don't they count?

Not for all of me they don't.

Let me make myself clear: I don't care about the Iraqis. I don't want their civilians slaughtered, and if they are liberated in the end, I will rejoice. But this war is about what Saddam could do to America the Beautiful, if he is not stopped. As so many of the Peace People have pointed out, many, many people around the world live in exactly the same sort of misery---many of them in much worse circumstances. Why pick on Iraq?

I agree. If it weren't that I perceive Saddam to be a threat to us, I wouldn't want our blood and treasure spent on the liberation of Iraq. It's simply not worth it, and it's not worth it precisely because of people like Julie Burchill.

When we did that sort of thing in the past, Burchill and her friends cried that we were evil imperialists, out to rule the whole world for ourselves and massacre anyone who got in our way. Should we try to "liberate" Cuba today, or North Korea, they'd probably say the same thing. If you research "why do they hate us?", at least as far as Europe is concerned, you find the trail leads right back to the Julie Burchills of the world.

And this is exactly what informs the views of Sarandon and the other Peace People. They've listened hard to those who told them that the US was nothing but an imperialist aggressor. Now they reflexively believe that it's impossible for the US to have any altruistic motives---even secondary ones. Now they don't even want us to fight to defend ourselves. You've taught them well, Julie.

But now, apparently, Burchill has approved our aggression. It's to liberate the little brown people from terrible suffering! Now, British soldiers are the idealists!

Your big mistake, Saddam old man, was not calling yourself a Communist. You could have had exactly the same power, exactly the same control, gassed exactly as many Kurds, and the Julie Burchills of the world would've defended your regime to the end. All you had to do was fly a few red flags and put up a few posters of Lenin. Maybe salted your rhetoric with a little "glorious workers' revolution". Would that have been too high a price to pay?

Souq Sharq

I like to get postcards from exotic, furrin places. A couple of years ago, when one of my brothers was in Kuwait, I asked him to send me a postcard.

The useless little beast sent me a picture of a shopping center. At night. And not only that, but he sent it through the military post office, so it didn't even have a Kuwaiti stamp on it. When I saw him again, I complained, and he said that was all there was in Kuwait!

This picture is very similar to the one he sent. This is Souq Sharq, which was hit by a missile on Saturday. Last I heard, only one person had been injured.

Niles and I are on a quest each Christmas to find a glass spire for the top of the tree. We used to have them when I was a child, but we haven't been able to find any lately. I'll take either one of these. We're going to need a bigger tree. (This is a nice picture too.)

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Enough Rope

Yesterday, LGF brought some more news of Nicholas DeGenova and the "teach-in" at Columbia University.

"Peace is not patriotic," DeGenova began. "Peace is subversive, because peace anticipates a very different world than the one in which we live--a world where the U.S. would have no place."

"U.S. patriotism is inseparable from imperial warfare and white supremacy," he said. "U.S. flags are the emblem of the invading war machine in Iraq today. They are the emblem of the occupying power. The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military."

Between DeGenova's condemnation of patriotism and his call for "fragging"--"I wish," he said, "for a million Mogadishus"--his speech provoked many of the professors who spoke later in the night to assert their disagreement

When reading about incidents like this, I can't help thinking of Alfred Hitchcock's Rope. In that movie, two young men kill a friend of theirs, and hide his body "in plain sight" in their apartment while they throw a party---which includes the dead man's father and fiancee.

They do this partly for kicks, partly for the intellectual exercise, and partly because they've taken to heart the theories of one of their old teachers, played by Jimmy Stewart. His theory was that there were some people, generally by virtue of intellect, who were so superior to the common herd of man as to exist on an entirely different plane. These superior people could not be held to the rules that govern the rest of us.

We hear the teacher espouse these theories at the party, where he is smooth and plausible, forceful, authoritative, and smug. Many of the other guests are disapproving, or comically indignant. But Stewart's character enjoys taunting them. He relishes their outrage. He clearly believes that he is superior to them, and enjoys watching their inferior minds shrink before his original, shocking, and revolutionary ideas.

To his credit, when he finds out about the murder, he is horrified, and immediately sees that his ideas have inspired it. Not his ideas, exactly, but his careless, smug, expression of them---designed more to shock, to make him seem a daring and original thinker, than to explore morality.

I don't hold out much hope that DeGenova and others like him will re-assess what they've been saying, even if some of their followers go too far. Not their fault, after all, if some of their listeners run out and try to bomb a military base.

Actually, if I were DeGenova, I'd be a lot more worried that one of my opponents would take my lectures to heart. DeGenova might find himself the one on the wrong end of the rope.

Local Color

Since I don't have a car, I am usually confined to a small part of Houston. This tends to be true even when I go shopping with Niles (who does have a car). Today we went to run some errands in another part of town, and I saw several things that struck me.

A number of businesses had support-the-troops messages on their signs. A sign-manufacturing company had a very fancy red-white-and-blue sparkly neon sign reading "God Bless America", and a cloth banner saying something about "our heroes at war".

We went to a hotel in which a very small conference was being held. I don't know what it was on; there was no sign and the talks and the conversations in the hall were in Spanish. Several of those people sported yellow ribbons, but that could have been a "peace" gesture. Or, for that matter, something completely different. We also went to a shopping mall that had red-white-and-blue and yellow ribbons tied around its trees. (Niles says he saw something on TV about a yellow ribbon shortage. Here's a story about ribbon shortages in Virginia.)

But the real surprise came when we went to dinner. Niles bought a digital camera, and I've often chided him for not bringing it along. (There was a terrific sunset we could have recorded, for instance.) Then we could have had evidence of the remarkable car we saw.

It was an old brown Oldsmobile, with flames and various things painted on the back. On the hood there was a battle scene. Mickey Mouse flew a shark-painted plane toward some tanks over a field of burning oil wells. There was a sign saying "To Bagdad" [sic] and another reading "France: 500 miles". No, we couldn't quite figure that out either. It was a very busy scene and I don't remember all its elements, but toward the front of the hood was painted GO BUSH.

This report was certainly not brought to you by the Houston Chronicle.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Columbia's Largest Export: Dope

From the Houston Chronicle today (top item) we find that:

Professor criticized for urging U.S. defeat

NEW YORK -- A Columbia University professor is being criticized for calling for the defeat of U.S. forces during an antiwar "teach-in" on Wednesday. Nicholas De Genova, an assistant professor of anthropology, said he would like to see "a million Mogadishus" -- a reference to the Somali city where American soldiers were ambushed, with 18 killed, in 1993. The crowd of 3,000 was largely silent at the remark. They loudly applauded De Genova later when he said, "If we really (believe) that this war is criminal ... then we have to believe in the victory of the Iraqi people and the defeat of the U.S. war machine." On Thursday, one of the speakers who followed De Genova called the statements "idiotic."

(Note that De Genova made his statements on Wednesday, but it took until Thursday before anyone got around to calling him on it.)

Well, isn't this special. I did some googling on this clown. Here's the Columbia Anthropology Department web site. He teaches Latino Studies, and is interested in "the politics of ethnographic research practice". Huh.

Here he is in full cry at a Columbia "teach-in" on Israel, last year:

"The heritage of the victims of the Holocaust belongs to the Palestinian people. The state of Israel has no claim to the heritage of the Holocaust," claimed Professor of Latino Studies Nicholas De Genova.

He also signed Columbia's Israel divestment petition.

And he's listed on the web pages for the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy. Says he's working on a book: Latino Optics: Racialization and Citizenship Between Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Chicago.

"Latino Optics". Hmmm. I'll have to put that in my multicultural physics class.

The "Columbia Underground Listing of Professor Ability" (CULPA; a site where students critique their professors' teaching abilities) has one general comment, mostly favorable; one comment on the Holocaust quote above; and response to that, again mildly favorable to the professor. Note that this last quote says "he makes no secret of his politics". I suppose at Columbia this is considered a good thing. You wouldn't want to hide any agendas under a cloak of impartiality, or anything like that.

By the way, for some reason, these reviews of De Genova are listed under the "General Chem" class. He's not listed in CULPA's anthro department pages.

UPDATE: More, from Newsday. Boy howdy:

The professor, Nicholas De Genova, also called for the defeat of U.S. forces in Iraq and said, "The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military." And he asserted that Americans who call themselves "patriots" are white supremacists.

The University is preparing a statement. I shiver with antici--------pation.

UPDATE II: InstaP now mentions this, leading to this long and information-packed post from Eugene Volokh. I know you'll be startled, but Blogspot is acting up again, and the permalinks aren't working. It's the Mar 28, 12:08 PM post. It contains many shameful statements from various professors.

Ah, plus a first-hand account at National Review.

I will sing another refrain of my sad lament: I went into a field where you actually have to have the right answers from time to time, rather than just making up whatever crap suits your fancy. Why, oh why, did I do that?

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Sincerely, Outraged in Berkeley

Alan Murphy of Barcelona, "A Friend of Iberian Notes" has a post on the Typology of Spanish Anti-War Letters (to the editor) up at Europundits. Of course, his post is very amusing and you should go read the whole thing there. This is just a brief summary:

A brief ideological analysis of anti-war letters to the editor across the Spanish press:

1. The "Bleeding Heart-Poor Me" Letter


I.e., "war is bad because it keeps me awake at night."

I think we know these next three:

2. The "Yanks are Bad" Letter


3. The "Unconditional Pacifist" letter


4. The "Think of the Children" Letter


For this next one, you must remember that Communism is respectable in Spain. These writers note the disconnect between the government's support for and the people's opposition to the war, which is quite high. Murphy says these people are not quite clear on what a representative democracy means.

5. The "Democracy is revealed as fascism" Letter.


These last, he says, are also confused about democracy. I don't quite understand these people; in the US we might view them as nuts.

6. The "If terrorists can't use violence, how come the state can?" letter

ESTIMATED PROPORTION OF ANTI-WAR MAIL: Fortunately not more than 5%

Murphy invites us to type letters in our home countries. I haven't kept track of how many are which type, so I can't give good percentages, but I can identify them.

1. Think of The Children!

In this case, what's keeping the "bleeding hearts" awake at night is fear for The Children, and the few pacifists we get never fail to mention them. They don't necessarily dwell on the The Children, but do they do let us know that in their exquisite agony they care so very very much for the poor poor people, unlike us bloodthirsty warmongers who are eager to upholster our dens with the supple pelts of Iraqi baayybeees. Constitutes a goodly hunk, maybe 20-25%, of anti-war writers.

2. I'm really pissed off the Republicans won, and I won't let anyone forget it!

This is the subtext of by far the vast majority of anti-war letters. It seems any number of people somehow acquired the notion that we were at the End of History, at least as far as conservatives are concerned. Perhaps that's nearly literally true; since humanity had reached the stage where liberal capitalism triumphed, all that was left was waiting for a few holdout regimes to come around. There was, therefore, no need for a large military, or sharp disagreements with other democracies. Ergo no Republicans would ever be elected again. This crowd is even more enraged by the fact that Bush won on a "technicality", and that the election was so close. If I'd just volunteered to register a few more elderly black folks, or screamed louder at my campus rally, they think, we wouldn't be in this mess.

There are several subtypes:

2A. Republicans are monsters. Surely I needn't explain further?

A small number, mostly from very left-wing university students and professors.

2B. It's all about the oil!

The gold standard. Bush is an oil man. Iraq has oil. Ergo, it's all about the oil. Quod erat demonstrandum, ipso facto, res ipsa loquitur, and other authoritative Latin phrases. These people haven't recovered from the '70s oil embargo.

2C. What will the neighbors think?

Another huge slice of anti-war letters. These are really the People at the End of History. All that multilateralism and diplomacy and playing well with others was going so well, and now that evil Bush---or that dumb Bush and his evil cadre---have ruined it all. These are the people most likely to tell Europeans that they're ashamed to be Americans. I feel a bit sorry for some of them. A lot of them seem to believe that terrorism can be treated as a crime, and that if we were more multilateral other countries would be eager to help us send in some Terror Cops, and try the offenders in Terror Court, where they would of course receive fair sentences with no capital punishment, and they'd be given very humane treatment and education and vocational training. And this would end terrorism.

I would say at least 50% of all anti-war letters fall into either 2B or 2C.

The next two categories are extremely unlikely to be Republicans, but they don't belong in the Bush Hater's Club because they'd be making the same arguments if Gore were president.

3. War only profits the war profiteers!

This is a blast from the past. The only reason we have wars is because of armament manufacturers. If I recall, this was a popular stance during (or before) WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and the Cold War. I include it only for historical context; I have heard almost nothing of this argument recently.

4. Address the Root Causes!

We know this drill. Poverty breeds hopelessness, which breeds frustration, which breeds terrorism, which breeds...etc. Cycles of various things are often invoked. This is not an unreasonable stance, if you believe that the world's people are all holding out your hands to you beseechingly, and only you, yes, YOU, Mr. and Mrs. American, can help their plight. In this view, Poor People who oppress their own do not exist. Only white oilmen can be villains. These people, in childhood, got up too early on Sunday mornings, found nothing on television, and were forced to watch badly-produced religious soap operas and Christian Bible stories. Many have forgotten the religion, but they remember the lessons.

5. Pull up the drawbridge!

These people write only a small percentage of the letters, but they are the primary opposition from the Right. Don't go putting our people in danger. War will only inflame Arab Street. What we should do instead is to cancel all foreign aid (especially Israel's), withdraw our troops from everywhere, and halt immigration. Oh, and build a fence between the US and Mexico.

Conspicuous by their absence have been those arguments which I've held from time to time. I did not always think this war was necessary; not even for months after September 11. Unfortunately, my anti-war arguments involved on-the-one-hand yet on-the-other arguments, conditions, weighing of probabilities, etc. They didn't involve sloppy emotions, sputtering indignation, conspiracy theories, or caustic hyperbole.

Which is probably why those types of letters don't get printed in the paper.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Auntie's Dingy Laundry

Apparently American criticism of the BBC has caused a certain flutter in some areas. For example, Dr. Frank brings us word that:

British Spin and Harry Steele respond to American BBC-bashing. Both of them hit the heads of many nails.

Those aren't nails, Frank. Those are their thumbs.

It's no wonder that the British don't see the sneering tone Lileks spoke of; if British Spin is any indication, Sneer is a widely-spoken language in Britain:

Quit whining abut the BBC

I mean come on. Forget 60 years of relentlessly clear reporting. Forget the fact that the BBC has never been a simple propaganda tool for the British government, instead aspiring to be something more complex and more ambitious, a reporting of objectivity and fairness of the world around it. BBC reporters dare to be rude to Generals, they question whether things are going well, they curl their lips, they sneer, they pronounce words diferently to Americans, They.. *shudder* give air time to the Iraqi's.

"See here, my good man, we've been at this broadcasting business for sixty years, and we don't need any upstart colonial johnnies to teach us how to suck eggs."

The purpose of reporters is not to lob up soft ones for the masterful politicians to knock out of the ground. it's to ask tough questions, to challenge presumptions, to probe, to push boundaries. What the Warbloggers seem dislike is good journalism, rather than the breathless repeating of lines to take.

I won't say I'm not irritated by the dimwittedness of American reporters' questions. As far as I can tell, the pattern goes something like this:

American: Saddam seems to have spread his forces out, dispersing them among the civilian population. Do you think this will make your job more difficult?

BBC: Now that the Iraqis are prosecuting a guerilla war, aren't you in danger of becoming involved in a Vietnam-style quagmire?

While the former is a stupid question, I don't see the latter as an improvement on it, even though it does "probe" and "push boundaries".

America and the UK are invading a foriegn country. You seriously expect the BBC not to report the official Iraqi reaction in depth?

Swell. Does the BBC curl its lip at Tariq Aziz and ask him where the hell Saddam is? Does it ask him about their little adventures with the human shields? Does it ask him if he can prove that the American dead we saw on Iraqi TV were really Americans, because this is powerful propaganda for him?

Now, I can't watch the BBC anymore (we don't get it on cable). Maybe they are doing that. But during the Afghan war I didn't notice them asking any tough, probing questions of the Taliban's ambassador in Pakistan.

The BBC's finest hour in that regard came when they reported that the Taliban were claiming to have shot down a B-52 but, the newsreader cautioned, they did not place much credence in this claim. I had to laugh. They sometimes uncritically reported some rather ridiculous Taliban claims, but even they weren't buying that one.

It's no wonder British Spin has nailed his own thumb, since most of the rest of his post is flailing at various straw men. The BBC's critics want only reports of cheering, flower-throwing crowds, and not of any bad news. They want censorship!

Ask yourself this question. Despite the BBC's terrible bias, the image of America abroad was incredibly strong 18 months ago. Has the BBC (and their cowardly media allies) become so much more anti-American to drive this? Or just maybe, is the BBC World service reflecting a scepticism about US motives that is shared by virtually every nation outside the USA and asking the questions those people want to see asked?

Possibly the latter. This, despite what British Spin seems to believe, is not a good thing. If the BBC is supposed to remain so impartial as to forget that its British (see below), then it shouldn't be pandering to worldwide paranoia, either, but maintaining an indpendent aloofness. If, of course, they're still hanging on to that glorious higher ambition.

In Sydney I got Fox News, CNN, BBC World, and Sky News Australia. Of those four, the most sensationalistic was of course Fox, but next came the BBC. That's the Beeb's real problem: it is pandering to whatever will pull in the viewers, in fact betraying the impartial legacy that British Spin seems to value so much. When there was sympathy to be milked, they were there. When it was clear there was going to be a war, they jumped on the anti-war bandwagon, until the war was won, and then there was John Simpson, Liberator of Kabul. (No thanks to the bloody Yanks, of course.)

I don't think that the directors of the BBC actually sit around and try to think of ways to make the US look bad, but I do think that the reporters and writers have enough anti-American bias that it can't help leaking through. Or, given the pandering, they don't bother.

Frankly, When I watch Fox and CNN and (to a lesser extent Sky), I'm shocked at how.. gullible they sound. Every uncorrobrated report is carried as if fact, and then completely rowed back from a few hours later without any sense of shame. Call it the Florida syndrome. I'd be surprised if anyone outside the US regards them as a reliable and objective media source.

As he goes on to say, this is just a factor of 24 hour news. While I agree that they ought to be careful about verifying sources and not repeating wild rumors, I don't see that broadcasting early reports, then retracting them, is particularly bad. Certainly it isn't "gullible". I suppose that if you take every word that comes from the TV as carved in stone, you might be confused, but that makes you gullible. Whenever I see something sensational on the TV, I remain skeptical until it's confirmed. Perhaps British Spin should take this approach, rather than regarding whatever the BBC emits as the Word from on High.

(I might add that the BBC had its share of mistaken reports during the Afghan war as well. Perhaps British Spin isn't watching the same BBC I was.)

Oh,. and Sky are now reporting that there is NO Chemical Weapons facility.. So the BBC were right on that one then.

Er, I wouldn't be so quick to gloat over that. There's been precious little information about that. In fact, I always wonder why, of the many tough and probing questions the press could ask at the CENTCOM briefings, they don't ask more about that.

Harry Steele doesn't add much to the debate, contenting himself with urging British Spin on, but he does indulge in a little pop psychology:

I have been pondering what has been behind this sudden wave of criticism of old Auntie Beeb from the blogosphere and, at the risk of going into amateur psychology, I think there are some possible explanations that can be offered:

In the case of Andrew Sullivan a hard right US-based British expat commentator, it is clearly part of his going native ritual.

But for the real Americans I think there are other things at work. For a start the idea that you can have a public broadcasting service which is widely watched, popular and quite often very good, goes against everything that the US right stand for. How can it work? How can people like it? There are no advertisements, the market is not really operating and it is a public venture which is not censored by the state? Surely some mistake?

Ironically they are actually calling for a form of state censorship by constantly harping on about how the BBC are asking tough questions, broadcasting Iraqi statements and even allowing critics of the war to be allowed on to the airwaves. They want the Beeb to broadcast our government's line. Well I think we'll leave that kind of thinking to the Iraqi regime.

Note: Sullivan is "hard right". This is the trouble with some of the British: everyone to the right of Tony Blair is "right-wing" or "hard right".

I don't think many Americans particularly care (or even know) that the BBC is state-subsidized, though I have heard a few use that as an explanation of its bias---a sort of reversal of Harry's explanation, in which the unaccountable, publicly-funded mandarin class (which in normal times includes yours truly) has a bias against societies in which they'd have to get real jobs. An interesting theory, but unconvincing.

Both Harry and British Spin have new stuff up in response to each other questions, and further comment by others, it's more thrashing of straw men. No one expects that various Iraqis or critics of the war not be allowed to speak. But if the Beeb is going to be impartial, it would be nice if they were as "tough" and "probing" with the Iraqis as with the Americans. I guess, in a way, it's a compliment; they have faith that Tommy Franks is not really going to whip out his pistol and shoot them---something you're not entirely confident of with the Iraqis.

In the comments to Harry's post, British Spin says, in part:

I say kudos to the BBC for refusing to be a simple mouthpiece for the British national interst.

Being a mouthpiece for British national interest and for the current British government are two different things. It's admirable that the British government---different British governments over many years---funds a news organization which does not necessarily toe the government line. But surely it's not too much to ask for the BBC to remember that it is British, that they serve the British people, and, yes, ought to consider their interests.

The fact that British Spin is so contemptuous of the very idea suggests that he's one of those people who are so pure as to have given up thinking in terms of nations and their interests.

I have more, but I'll cut this post off now.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Salam Pax on CNN

Oh my goodness! They just mentioned Salam Pax on CNN Headline News. They called him a "mysterious observer". This was in their teaser at the half hour mark; they haven't actually done the report yet.

UPDATE: OK, the segment's run now, at 5:30pm Central. This was on their "Hotwired" segment, Erica Hill reporting. They said that Salam is providing "compelling reports", and noted that "Salam Pax" is Arabic and Latin for "peace". Said that Salam is a 29-year-old architect (which I didn't know, must not have read that post). Many people have wondered whether he's for real, they said, but mentioned Diane's efforts to validate his identity (such as it is). I think they said the two had an "online relationship", which is technically true, but generally construed differently.

They showed pictures of the webpage (the latest post, unfortunately none of the ones he's put up with interesting pictures), and gave out the URL. Hill read it wrong (spelling it out dear_read rather than dear_raed), but they put it up correctly on the screen. Moments later they verbally corrected the spelling.

I never discovered whether he found Raed. I thought this was a "missing" friend, but some posts I read indicated that he was just abroad, and recent posts speak of Raed wandering around town with Salam and another friend.

Up at the Headline News site, the last "Hotwired" segment they have is March 12.

UPDATE II: By the way, Hill said the word "blog" without bothering to explain what that meant. We're now officially obsolete.

UPDATE III: I meant to say that I hoped Saddam's goons have their hands full with other matters at present, with no energy to spare hunting Salam down.

UPDATE IV, 3/25/03: Now the BBC has gotten in on the act. Their tech reporter did some digging on Salam's email headers.

BBC Pile On

Andrew Sullivan has decided to take on the BBC. In that link he reports several emails he's received from Americans who are shocked at the BBC's bias. In this one he says:

I'm somewhat thrilled my little obsession of the past couple months has begun to find new converts. Not exactly my persuasive powers. More due to the fact that suddenly the BBC is being broadcast live to Americans. That funny, subtle sound you hear is of a few thousand jaws dropping...

(There are links to other blogs in that post too.)

Well, welcome to the blogosphere, Andrew, where we've been on the case for more than just the past couple of months.

For example, there's a whole blog dedicated to sniffing out BBC bias. Plus there's a BBC Watch. And there's this sporadically-updated page on political manipulation of the BBC.

Today's Lileks is on the BBC again today.

Not to mention the fact that I've been venting frustration at them almost from the very day I started this blog. My very first hint that the BBC may be just a weensy bit biased came after I'd had cable TV in Sydney for about a week. It came with BBC World Service. They have a program on the environment---can't remember its name---and one episode dealt with global warming (possbly every episode deals with global warming). Naturally it mentioned Kyoto, and Bush's FAILURE to sign it, "...even when global warming hit Bush's home state...". The video they showed over these words was the flooding in Houston caused by Tropical Storm Allison in 2000. It's Houston! We get Tropical Storms! They bring lots of rain! It floods! It was like that before the coming of the White Man; it did not arise as a result of the Industrial Revolution. But, no, anything to spin their pet agendas.

About two weeks later came September 11. They were OK---even sometimes a bit maudlin---during the coverage of the attacks. But when it came time for the war, they fell into the mode we've come to know and mock. A parade of experts trooped across their set, pontificating on what the American military would do. About 90% of these were dismissive of our capabilities.

In this early post (seen by almost no one!) I explain what inspired me to start this blog. Scroll down to the imaginary BBC interview with the defense expert "pillock". The fellow I was most thinking of while writing this was Dan Plesch, Pillock-in-Chief.

It got even worse when they showed their reporters on the scene in the US. I remember vividly their correspondent reporting on the anthrax mailings in New York. He spoke earnestly into his microphone about the sense of panic that was gripping the city. Meanwhile, on the street behind him, people strolled, walked their dogs, played with their children. A beautiful sunny, panic-filled day. The BBC's America sounded almost nothing like the one I knew. Finally, their constant refrain of PANIC led me to email several folks at home, just to double-check. Nope, no panic. The BBC continued (and apparently continues) to exist in an alternate universe, very like our own, but not quite.

To continue, there's the ghastly "Dateline:London" and its frequent guest, slime-covered Abdel-Bari Atwan. And just recently I used a BBC article to demonstrate my theory of the US as Prime Mover---the strange idea among some that only the US's actions matter and are subject to criticism; other entities cannot be faulted by the reactions they are "forced" to make in response.

And here's the BBC trembling in its wing-tips over the frightening implications of America's deep Christian faith.

When I went googling for BBC references on the blog, I found I had poisoned this well by displaying the tag line "More accurate than the BBC!" --- ExPat Pundit. Actually, what Brian said was this:

I'd love to have the documentation in the form of a transcript from the BBC, but in my experience Angie is far more accurate than that organization anyway.

There you have it. An unimpeachable source.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Press Briefing (and Swirlies)

Steven Chapman dares to criticize the holy Lileks's completely accurate description of the BBC reporters:

NPR is running . . . the BBC. It's interesting, listening to these guys - I'm unsure how it's possible to sneer the entire time you're speaking. I fear the announcer's face will stay that way. Perhaps you can recognize an old Beeb hand by the permanently curled lip. I've tuned in twice in half an hour; both times they were talking about the FAILURE to get Saddam, and what this FAILURE means for the war which might be hindered by this initial FAILURE...

The interesting part is not in Steven's post, but in his comments, where he says:

Incidentally, it's been noted over here that in press conferences the 'challenging' questions are mostly asked by non-US reporters. I'm not quite sure what was meant by 'challenging' but I've seen zillions of press conferences from the Pentagon, State Dept, White House, in Afghanistan and now in Iraq and I'd have to agree that the US reporters' questions are noticeably softer than the rest. I've even on occasion noticed the person at the podium get somewhat snippy with the non-US questioners.

Huh. Maybe it's because the non-US reporters' questions frequently boil down to: "Now that you've begun prosecuting your vicious and illegal war, and found that the Iraqis will actually shoot back, and you've lost simply, er, a handful of men, and have killed two civilians' donkeys, don't you think it's time you admitted that you are in a Vietnam-style quagmire that will humble the United States and cause the fearsome Arab Street to rise against you in wave after wave of terrorist attacks? Oh, and I have a followup about the brutal Afghan winter."

Now, there are only three possible answers to that:
1) "No."
2) "Fuck you."
3) Click BANG! "Next question?"

So what's the point in asking the flipping question? Is it to see how uncomfortable you can make the guy while he tries to politely answer your stupid question? Is showing up at the press conference cutting into your drinking time? Or is Qatar alcohol-free, and drying out is making you all cranky?

Here's the sort of thing I mean. This is from the 3/22/03 CENTCOM press briefing. First three questions are from American reporters, and then there's this one:

Q General, Jeff Meade (ph), Sky News. Can I ask you to talk to the blitz on Baghdad. How does it help you to be regarded as liberators by the Iraqi people when they are being terrified by that display of ordnance? And also bearing in mind that some of the targets may have suspect military value, because if they are obvious regime buildings they would have long ago been evacuated.

Now, you can read the long-winded response Franks gave him yourself. What would Tommy really like to have said?-------

"The people were so terrified of our ordnance that some of them came out into the streets to watch the show. And how is it that you know so much about where the Iraqi military is? Do you think they don't have infrastructure, that they can just do their planning and communicating in a barn somewhere? Guards, take this man away and find out what he knows about the Iraqis' plans."


Q ... ITB (ph) News of London. General Franks, what can you tell us about the success in attacking so-called regime targets? What can you tell us what you know of the status, whereabouts or health of Saddam Hussein? And what do you say to those people who say that the people who are most likely to be shocked and awestruck by the shock are the Iraqi civilians you claim to be liberating?

"Well, Mr. So-Called Journalist, I don't know yet whether Saddam Hussein continues to waste oxygen, but we did hit the bunker where he was staying. As for the rest, you weren't listening to what I told that last fella, were you?"

Q General Franks -- (inaudible) [Jonathan -- A.S.] Marcus from BBC World Service...One of the most striking things in your briefing was your comment several regular Iraqi army divisions have surrendered or their leaders have surrendered...the troops have abandoned their weapons, the soldiers have gone home. You showed us a picture of troops in the desert -- it wasn't a great picture as far as I was concerned -- I couldn't see much about it. This is a very important propaganda issue -- if Iraqi forces hear through a whole variety of means that the units are just simply melting away...That would be information that would be very useful for you to have imparted by the world's media. What further information, what further evidence can you give us that leads us to accept that probably tens of thousands or many thousand Iraqi troops are simply melting away or going home?

"I've told you what's true and if you don't want to believe it that's up to you. Feel free to go count every captured soldier and every one still at large. Are you afraid there won't be enough corpses for you to report in a short war?"

That one prompted a letter to and comment from Andrew Sullivan. One of Sullivan's readers was astonished that Marcus had essentially said that he didn't know why he should report what Franks was telling them about Iraqi surrenders, given that it would just be propaganda for the US. I wonder whether they're such tough guys with the Iraqis. CNN was kicked out of Iraq for not being obsequious enough, if you can imagine.

Q First of all, thank you for being with us finally. Do you have any personal message for the families of the casualties? And for the second question, do you think Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would become a black shadow like Osama bin Laden is right now?

"I think Osama is a black shadow on a cave wall right now. As for the casualties, I already said what I had to say about that at the beginning. Who the hell am I, Oprah? I'm not going to sit here and cry, if that's what you mean."

[Actually this reporter, who was a foreigner, probably meant the Iraqi casualties. Franks took him to mean the US casualties and went right on to the next question. And he did say things about the US casualties in the beginning. This is where I turned the conference off, by the way.]

Q This is Li Jingxian (ph) from Shanghai TV, China. General Franks, it was reported that more than 200 Iraqi civilians have been killed or injured ever since the war began. Do you have any comment on that? And what kind of measurements has the coalition taken or is going to take in order to minimize the civilian casualties during the military action? Thank you very much.

"Two hundred, huh? That's less than your government killed deliberately at Tiananmen Square."

Q (Off mike.) There's an impression here in the region that you're having more trouble than you're willing to admit, that you're meeting stiffer resistance than you're willing to admit. One case being brought to mind is Umm Qasr. If you can talk about that.

And yesterday, following the air strikes, the Iraqi information minister said that your forces are going to be decapitated and routed. If you can comment on that. Thank you.

"Yes, it's true. The enemy is firing real bullets at us. But we thought of everything, including this remote possibility. My comment on the Iraqi information minister is that you can feel free to take him at face value if you want to. I'm not gonna."

Q (Off mike.) We are getting close from the fourth day of war, and until now, we can't see any sign of weapons of mass destruction, we can't see anyone using of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq. Was it a big lie or just a cover to justify your invasion of Iraq and to remove its regime, which still cannot use any kind of these weapons to defend itself against your attacks? Thank you.

"Oops, you have found us out. I knew that if we didn't discover any WMDs after ninety minutes, you sharp-witted lads of the press would expose our dastardly scheme. Yes, yes it was all a lie. In fact, the whole war was so that Poppy Bush could get hold of Saddam's magnificent feather boa collection. sigh And now that you know that, I'll have to kill you all. Guards!"

The sad thing is that I've not had to go digging for choice stupid questions---they made up about half the press briefing. And the pattern is pretty clear. American media asked questions designed to elicit actual information. Sometimes they were softball questions, but at least they were generally questions a person could answer.

The foreigners' questions were not generally meant to elicit information; they were designed to make a propaganda statement. I don't know why they bothered, since their organizations' editorial writers make all the facts up back at the home office anyway.

[I will admit that many of the affiliations were not recorded, so I can't say for certain it was mostly foreigners who were making statements with their questions. But there was certainly a pattern.]

The next day followed much the same pattern. Tommy Franks, probably in disgust, stayed away and let John Abizaid handle them. The fourth question asked if this wasn't a new Vietnam.

After that, he mostly called on Americans, and as a result, real information flowed. Though he did call on Al Jazeera and got an actual real question rather than a disguised accusation.

And apparently, if I understand Chapman correctly, the press (and public?) in Britain is sitting around congratulating themselves on the "challenging" nature of their questions, in contrast to those old-fashioned who-what-where-when wheezes the dumb Yanks come up with.

UPDATE: Today's briefing was much the same, with even fewer foreigners called on. We had one sneering Brit whose question I don't remember, one Chinese who asked if the glorious Iraqi people weren't rising up against the American imperialist aggressors, and a guy from Iraqi TV who clearly wished he had asked the Chinese guy's question (the Iraqis are not nearly as practiced as the Chinese in revolutionary rhetoric), but who settled for asking if the reports that the coalition had taken much of the southern countryside weren't "Lies! All lies!"

Saturday, March 22, 2003

The Latter-Day Saints

[No, this is not about Mormons.]

Here's a brilliant article on the website of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, via Entre Nous. As usual when I say something is brilliant, I mean "I thought of that a long time ago, but never got around to writing it up." The author, Adam Garfinkle, argues that the behavior of many who are virulently opposed to the war resembles that of religious fanatics.

First he carefully distinguishes those who are ambivalent about the war, and those who are certain that war is wrong. The former, he notes, are rarely found out protesting in the streets.

The vast majority of people out in the street protesting, however, do not see the Iraq question as a"near" thing, and they are not humble. They are stridently certain not only that going to war is unwise, but that it is also morally wrong and even criminal. They have not done...careful analytical thinking...They have rather chosen categorical and judgmental moralist language peppered with apocalyptic accusations and apocryphal predictions.

To understand these typical characteristics of the messages being emitted from street demonstrations, again certain distinctions must be made. For present purposes, two are critical.

First, distinguish between organizers and followers. In all recent major demonstrations, the organizing elements, both in the United States and in Europe, have been of the radical leftist.


Second, distinguish between what goes on in the United States and what goes on in Europe.

Americans, he says, protest for a variety of reasons, including knee-jerk Bush-hatred, and the longing for the glory that was the Sixties. This is also true of Europeans, he says, but they have other motivations as well:

In Europe, all of these sentiments and motives are also found, along with two others. The first is a visceral and often irrational anti-Americanism that is growing in rough proportion to the increasing gap between U.S. power and that of the European Union countries. The second is a desire to expunge though street catharsis a deep sense of guilt over a European colonial past now held responsible for the terrible problems of the Middle East and other"third world" areas. These two sentiments vary from country to country. In France, for example, there is a paucity of guilt, but a superabundance of anti-Americanism; in Britain it tends to be the other way 'round.

In short, while a prospective war in Iraq is the pretext for the demonstrations we have lately seen, it is rarely the cause...It's about religion.

Irrational anti-Americanism and post-colonial guilt are especially prevalent in Europe because of the decline of traditional religion, he says. What he doesn't get around to claiming is that they are less popular in the US because tradition religion is still strong here.

Many antiwar activists seem to need the belief in the equivalent of a moral apocalypse for reasons of personal commitment; the more portentous and dramatic the stake, the more praiseworthy one's dedication becomes and the more unequivocal one's commitment must be.

This is the nub of the argument. Many people (especially young people) need some cause to identify with, something with which they can identify, sacrifice for, live for. Or die for.

This backdrop to antiwar activism helps explain why so many activists and marchers are oblivious to rational argument. It is not only that so many are ignorant of the subject, it is rather that knowledge is subordinated to feelings. When people have a strong need to believe something, mere facts are powerless to stop them.

This is reminiscent of Lee Harris's essay "Al Qaeda's Fantasy Ideology", in which he argues that the events of September 11 were not designed to provoke any particular response from us. They were not meant to get us to accede to Al Qaeda's demands. They were instead more in the manner of ideological theater, a gesture made because, within the ideology, it's the right thing to do, rather than a thing which will bring about a certain end.

Although I don't believe Harris says it, one could also imagine the bombings as a religious ritual, with the religion in question being not Islam per se, but a fantasy ideology which is based in Islam and pan-Arab nationalism.

So what do protestors have to do with this? In his essay, Harris relates an illuminating story from his youth, in the late Sixties. He and a friend both opposed the Vietnam War, but Harris thought that the protests ought to be restricted to gestures that might convince others of the justice of their cause. His friend had a different idea:

My friend did not disagree with me as to the likely counterproductive effects of [a disruptive] demonstration. Instead, he argued that this simply did not matter. His answer was that even if it was counterproductive, even if it turned people against war protesters, indeed even if it made them more likely to support the continuation of the war, he would still participate in the demonstration and he would do so for one simple reason -- because it was, in his words, good for his soul.

What I saw as a political act was not, for my friend, any such thing. It was not aimed at altering the minds of other people or persuading them to act differently. Its whole point was what it did for him.

(Emphasis in original.)

This is what drives people to block city streets even though it doesn't endear them to the populace; to get naked for peace in lieu of reasoned argument, and to vandalize national landmarks in a self-indulgent temper tantrum.

They're not really seeking to change anyone's mind (although it's possible not all of them have realized that); they are performing the arcane religious rites of their sect---rites which, if performed properly, will get them into Heaven, even if they worsen the conditions the rites were protesting.

(A good example would be the people who thought it was a swell idea to liken slaughtering animals with the Holocaust. I'm sure there are many PETA members who consider this campaign a big success, even though it disgusted many people, and would continue to consider a success even if it led to increased meat consumption. But, you know, they made a statement, right? They, like, Spoke Out. And that's what's important.)

Back to Garfinkle:

A society's being "secular" does not obviate the social impulse toward or need for religion; that impulse merely migrates to other places, the most popular one of the twentieth century having been politics...

Or, as Niles points out, football.

As G.K. Chesterton said, "When a man stops believing in God, he doesn't believe in nothing; he'll believe in anything."

I hate this quote. It's not true, at least not generally. Many, many people I know are atheists, and yet remain skeptical of, well, just about anything. In fact, a better quote might have been, "When a man stops believing in God, he won't believe anything, even if it bites him on the ass." (Note, must polish that.) That is, atheists tend to be a very cynical and suspicious lot, in my opinion.

On the other hand, there are people who do not so much stop believing in God as stop believing in what they were taught. They still feel a need for spirituality, but somehow find that the faiths they grew up in are old and raggedy, and in need of exchange. In California, I knew a woman whose family were Deep South fundamentalist Christians, one of those types who tend to get physical and emotional during services, in the grip of the Power of the Lord.

Naturally that simply wouldn't do for her. So she went shopping for a new religion. She told me that a friend of hers had gotten good satisfaction from Islam, and she was interested in learning more. Her family's Christianity was constricting, dogmatic, judgmental, even cruel---but Islam would set her free.

No doubt people turn to religions, or switch religions, for their harmless qualities, such as the comfort of trusting in an all-knowing father, or hope of an afterlife, or for, as Garfinkel says, to belong to something greater than themselves.

But there are also negative aspects of religion as well, which apparently fill some people's needs. For example, there's the desire to be part of an elect, the need to look down on outsiders, and the comfort of a dogma to follow. It's these aspect which I see most in the current political climate.

It's fashionable (in the blogosphere) to call this political bent "leftist", but I'm uncomfortable doing that. That seems too pat a label to slap on it. And besides, the mindset I'm talking about seems to have come unmoored from leftist philosophy---it certainly has from liberal philosophy.

(If you take long enough over writing a post, you'll come across something that makes your point better than you do. In my case, it's this Stanley Kurtz piece in NRO from May of 2001 (stumbled just now, again via Entre Nous, who is on my wavelength). Kurtz says pretty much what Garfinkle has, except that he does not confine his examination to anti-war protesters, as Garfinkle does.)

Shiny Side Out

In a shockingly appropriate gesture, a bunch of anti-war protesters showed up at a US base in Britain clad in tinfoil.

Here's a notice about the "Foil the Base" protest.

Menwith Hill plays a crucial role in war on Iraq. As the largest electronic monitoring station in the world it picks up communications from satellites covering the Middle East it even won an award for its eavesdropping in the last Gulf War. It is the brains of any attack on Iraq.

Menwith is also a key base for the project of long-term military aggression - Star Wars.

To foil the base disrupt satellite signals at the base - there has to be as much foil in the air as possible. Bring foil kites, foil balloons, foil puppets and use your imagination!

"Remember, satellites control GPS-guided bombs. When the satellites can't communicate with the ground, the bombs go off course, and you know what that means. Right! More Iraqi corpses for our cause! Hurray!

To be safe, we should wear our foil at all times. It keeps those Zionist Nazi weather-producing mind control rays from communicating with the chips they've implanted in our bums."

If I find a photo, I'll link to it.

Courtesy Mark Holland, commenting on LGF.

Just a Reminder

Check out this picture from "Reuters", taken at the protest
today outside Fairford AFB in Gloucestershire (where B-52s are based).

Now, remember. They're anti-war, NOT pro-Saddam. Just so we don't lose
sight of that. Lord knows, "Saddam Kills" would not be accurate.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Soaped Opera House

The other day two intensely stupid shits climbed the Sydney Opera House and painted "No War" on one of its sails in big red letters. (Picture accompanies article.)

That's not just paint up there on the Opera House, it's some sort of fancy-schmancy tiling. It makes beautiful gold and white patterns when the sun hits it just right. So it's not like they can just paint over it and it'll be OK. According to this story, it will cost $AU25,000 to clean it up, which is about US$15,000. That's a lot less than I expected.

The Sydney Morning Herald has some rough video (can't find the link anymore) of an interview with one of them, Will Saunders. When asked about the trouble he was in with the law, he said that he had a "clear defense" in that he'd done a wrong in order to prevent a much greater wrong.

Gosh, he's right! I mean, by doing their Voodoo Pixie dance and defacing a national landmark, they've magically brought the war to a screeching halt!

Oh, wait, we don't live in the Voodoo Pixie universe, so it doesn't work that way.

But...but...George Bush will see that in his morning paper, and think, "Wow! Two guys have painted "NO WAR" on the Sydney Opera House, so they must be really opposed! The depths of their passion have convinced me like no rational argument could have! Bring the troops home!"

No, guess it's not going to work like that, either.

But, of course, you didn't do this so George Bush would see it; you did it so John Howard would see it. When Howard heard about it, he said, "My, they must be very serious about their anti-war stance if they would go so far as to paint the Opera House. I've not given any sort of serious consideration to this thing at all! Spared nary a thought for it! How can I not learn from a couple of juvenile pranksters who've just cost my government a big wad of cash! Everybody stand down!", won't work like that, either.

You didn't do this to "prevent a greater wrong", because you knew that there was no way you, personally, could. No, you just wanted the whole world to know the depths of your passion on this subject, and rather than renting a billboard, you decided you'd deface a national landmark and cost Australians a great deal of money to clean it up. You've garnered worldwide attention for a self-indulgent display of petulance. You've pissed on the carpet in front of the adults because nobody was paying any attention to you. "Look at me! Look at me! I matter! I am powerful!"

When asked about the clean-up, Saunders said he was sorry about that, and he'd be glad to clean it up himself, except that he didn't think he'd be allowed back up there. Smart thinking.

From the article:

Saunders said he was ``very much in need of a cup of tea'' after he was released by police.

No worries. They'll probably be standing you rounds of drinks up in Epping, mate.

PRE-PUBLICATION UPDATE: I am disappointed, but unsurprised, to find that I was quite right about that last. Some people are not only unclear on the difference between protest and vandalism, but seem oblivious to the danger that what is right for one is right for all. For example, few seem to have grasped that NO WAR is no more valid a cause than NO GST, RELEASE THE ASYLUM SEEKERS, FREE MUMIA, or SAVE IRAQ; KILL SADDAM. So I guess we can just turn the Opera House into a giant graffiti "tunnel".

Via Tim Blair.

UPDATE II: This article says the paint is nearly gone. I feared that the paint would stain the tiles, and that if they managed to clean it off they'd be left with a pink ghost. Apparently not. Whew!

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Sound Advice for the Unsound

Are you an leftist anti-war pundit? Are you worried sick that the war will turn out to be a smashing success? Sure there'll be few American casualties? Terrified there'll be few Iraqi casualties? Wondering what you'll write about after the war? Well, here's some sage advice from Dear Abby---er, I mean---Dr. Ridgely:

No mea culpa. The first thing you must realize is that we on the left never, ever admit we're wrong. Let this be your touchstone...


Suggest that it's sinister. Intone ominously about "big oil interests" without ever really saying what you mean. Say that you're "disappointed in" and "deeply saddened by" displays of "patriotism bordering on jingoism." This war heralds a new "dark time." Mention a "conspiracy of shadowy economic interests."


Belittle/minimize the achievement. This is sneer-and-curled-lip territory. "What's to cheer about? This was only the Iraqi military, after all-a third-rate power. Hurrah."


Change the subject. This tactic is always worth a column or two...wonder if the U.S. is ready to tackle the "much tougher task" of taking on North Korea. Venture afield and resurface the "evils" of "globalization" or of environmental doom. There's a lot of material here-remember global warming and the Kyoto Treaty?


Congratulate yourself and don't apologize. This should be a centerpiece column for you and should contain the words "peace" and "children" at least three times. Useful phrases: "It's never wrong to stand for peace." "How many Iraqi children would be alive today if peace had prevailed?"...Focus on what you, yourself, "feel." Work yourself and your emotions into the piece and talk about your reactions to the war. Talk of your own "shame"...

This last is Margo Kingston's special turf. The sneer-and-curled lip approach will be taken by George Monbiot, just before he changes the subject.

Mark Morford will use them all, sometimes switching tactics in the middle of a sentence. Take care you don't get whiplash.

There's much more.

UPDATE: Huh, and here's a column in a similar vein, somewhat shorter. Don't know when it was written, unless the 020503 in the URL is the date. Author's a goofy-lookin' feller (that hair!) with a funny name. Lilacs, or something like that.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Give Me That Old Time Religion

Whenever you see an article titled "America's deep Christian faith" on the BBC, you know that the horseshit is going to fly thick and fast. So don your protective gear.

(The author is Justin Webb, a Beeb correspondent living in the US.)

Our correspondent gives a personal view on the importance of faith and religious belief in American life.

Come with me to an America---let alone a Washington---you do not recognize.

My wife and I do not believe in God.

Nor do I. Remember that as you read this.

The Bush administration hums to the sound of prayer. Prayer meetings take place day and night.

This line was so good they used it twice, and made a sidebar of it.

According to that faith there is such a thing as heaven - 86% of Americans, we are told by the pollsters, believe in heaven.

But much more striking to me, and much more pertinent to current world events, is the fact that 76% or three out of four people you meet on any American street believe in hell and the existence of Satan.

They believe that the devil is out to get you. That evil is a force in the world - a force to be engaged in battle.

This, I think, is where a lot of foreigners get it wrong, and to my mind they do so deliberately.

I suppose most of my relatives believe in Hell and the devil, but Hell's just a place bad people go to when they die, and Satan reigns there. I know there are people who say things like "the devil made me do it" seriously, but I don't think there are many who believe that Satan actually walks the earth looking for ways to turn men to evil.

In particular, I don't believe Bush and his advisors do. When Bush talks about "evil", he's talking about natural human "evil"---cruelty on such a scale that it requires a new vocabulary.

I tried to write that sentence to be more specific, but I've found that I don't have the words. I groped for words that would mean "vast, deliberate, senseless, and overwhelming cruelty", but found that I could only describe it in apocalyptic terms: evil, wickedness. I tried for "failings": "cruelty on such a scale that it trascends ordinary human failings". Bah. Not only does that still sound religious, it sounds like one of those too-forgiving suburban religions which could do no better than regard Hussein as a man of "many failings".

When you abandon old-time religious rhetoric, you are left with only the most clammy and flaccid words for great wrongs [see, religion again], the sort of detached, impersonal terms a school counselor might use in referring to a rambunctious child: "Young Saddam has great charisma and is a natural leader, but he has an rather an inflated view of his own abilities, and an overweening ego. His intense need for friends and followers leads him into hyperaggression, especially with some of the weaker youngsters. We recommend Saddam be placed into a more structured environment with greater adult interaction and more attention to discipline..."

You see how this sort of thing is inadequate for a situation like Iraq. But we seem compelled to either use this watery language, or the sterner, religiously-based language of Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, Heaven and Hell.

To be clear: I don't think you need to be particularly religious to say that Saddam (or, if cannot recognize a villain until he is safely dead---Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot) is "evil". Nor do I believe that when religious people say that Saddam is evil, they necessarily mean that he is possessed or encouraged by a supernatural force, a fallen angel, or a red guy with horns, a tail, and carrying a pitchfork.

Whether or not Harry Belafonte means that when he says the Bush administration is "possessed of evil", I will leave for him to explain.

Much of that battle takes place in the form of prayer.

Americans will talk of praying as if it were the most normal, rational thing to do.

Gasp! How simplisme! How childlike!

During the last week a child who'd been missing for nine months has been found safe and well - the event was described routinely on the news media as a miracle.

What does the average BBC viewer think of this? Does he think, "Hold on, I said it was a 'miracle' that Deirdre's worthless brother wasn't killed in that smash-up, and I'm no bloody preacher." Or does he think, "Har! Stupid Yanks."

One broadcast had a caption reading "the power of prayer".

In fact the child had been abducted and her abductor was recognised and captured.
In rational old Britain the media circus following the finding of the child would have been focused on ways of preventing this happening again - on police errors in the investigation.

Here, metaphorically, sometimes literally, they just sink to their knees.

This is particularly rancid. What is our BBC viewer to think now? A kidnapped child is found and immediately the whole country bows its head, thanking God for her rescue. No one says a word about better police procedures, no one wonders how she could have avoided escaping for nine months, no one mentions the fact that the kidnapper himself seems to have a bit of a messiah complex. We all just rejoice that it was God's will that this child be found alive, and redouble our prayer chain efforts to bring back others. God will provide!

So while there are plenty of rational people giving rational advice about policy matters in the Bush White House there is also a channel, an input, from on high.

The Bush administration hums to the sound of prayer. Prayer meetings take place day and night.

Here these sentences are again. I think the humming's in your brain, friend.

Doubtless the president and his people have been praying earnestly that Saddam Hussein might fall under a bus.

Another stupidly offensive comment, disguised as a joke.

Having made the decision to fight the good fight - and have no doubt about it President Bush has made that decision - the nagging doubts, the rational fears, the worldly misgivings - all those things felt so strongly by post-religious Europeans - can be set aside.

Remember that, children, a Christian leader never, ever doubts. He never wonders whether his human frailties have led him into wrong in an effort to do right. He's never troubled by the unintended consequences of his plan. He never thinks of Dante's warning about good intentions. All he has to do is listen for the Voice of God within, and he's certain of being in the right. Deus lo volt! That's all he has to know.

There's a little more in the same vein. But I'm disappointed on what was cut. He mentioned at the top that he was an atheist, and how this was never a problem in Brussels, but then he lets that topic drop. He doesn't say how the infidel pair are treated in America. He neglects to mention the prayer meetings at "cocktail" parties (which now serve only Kool-Aid and Nilla Wafers). He omits the part about the threatening notes tossed through his window at night, saying, "Repent, Unbeliever!" He never tells us of how good Christian men menace his wife in the streets of fundamentalist Washington, beating her when her skirt rises above her knee.

Because that's what this is about, right? This article is another in a series designed to paint the US as just another loopy theocracy. I mean, Bush talks to God, Bin Laden talks to God, what's the difference between them? Only the size of their destructive power, yeah.

Andrew Sullivan comments briefly on this.

UPDATE: Merde in France has a similar tale of delicate horreur at Bush's religious affiliation:

Heard on sur Europe 1, top rated radio station, this afternoon: 'Does Bush belong to a sect?' (because his church is not 'recognized' by the Catholic Church). Someone should explain to the French that no Protestant Church is 'recognized' by the Catholic Church and that other religions exist outside of the Catholicism. Talk about fanatical bigotry.

As someone once pointed out to me, my splinter group is a denomination, yours is a sect, and his is a cult. In other words, I'm not sure whether "sect" carries the same whiff of nuttiness in French as it does in English.

Entre Nous, a blog by a former Belgian (somewhere in the Middle East, so Merde tells us), mentions this too, saying:

Belgians have the same problem --- that they think of religion as a binary state device. You're either 'catholique' (Roman Catholic) or 'laic' (secular humanist) --- most Belgians I discussed religion with knew that there were such things as Judaism and Islam, but were stupendously ignorant about Protestantism. The "cult" Dubya supposedly belongs to is none other than the United Methodist Church...Speak of "provincialism".

Bush's religion confirmed here. Oh, the humanity! How could Americans have elected a President that goes to the same church as my ancestors!

(Actually, my ancestors went to some obscure German Protestant church with probably about 50 members, which was eventually subsumed into a larger church, presumably with much the same outlook. This pattern repeated itself about three more times over the next century. Even after all that it didn't have one of your Big Denomination names; Mom told anyone who asked that she was Methodist.)

For some reason, the Other American I worked with in Sydney---quite a sophisticated and well-travelled and definitely non-simplisme fellow---asked me what church my family belonged to. I said something along the lines of, "Well, it wasn't anything weird. It was Methodist." He gave me his "oh how unsophisticated you are" laugh and told me that in Europe, Methodist was thought of as pretty weird.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Beware the Ads of March!

I've been noticing something disturbing about the banner ads on Blogger sites. Before, the ads were maybe annoying, but at least they were (semi-)professionally done, and some even looked good. A lot of them were ads for advertising on Blogger.

A few weeks ago, I suddenly began seeing two banner ads on some sites. One would be the normal ad, and then right below it would be these cheap-looking new ads. The new ads were just plain white space with some text in it. Most of those banners were scrollable. There was no scroll bar, but if you put your mouse on the white space and scrolled up and down, you'd see a second ad. They didn't have a URL associated with them, but instead said "go to someurl" (with the actual URL, of course).

Now the original, colorful banners are gone, and as far as I can tell, all replaced with these cheesy ads.

The ads just aren't cheesy in appearance; their content sometimes seems a little dodgy too:

3/13/03: Europundits

Over 500 Police Items -- Apparel from FBI, ATF, LAPD, NYPD, Duty boots, tactical uniforms, more

Now, of course you know these ads rotate, so when you look, those same ads probably won't be there. Also, they don't pay to advertise on this site, so I'm not going to give the URLs.

3/14/03: Again on Europundits.

Antichrist Revealed --- Reveals the identity of Antichrist-666 from the classic Reformed view!

So I went to Blogger's main page and sampled a number of English-language blogs from their "recently updated" list. I don't read these particular blogs normally, they just happened to have ads that I considered particularly...interesting.

These are all today---3/15/03:
Schizo? Maybe. But at least we can accept me.

Stop Your Divorce -- Find out exactly what to say and do to stop your divorce or rejection.

Use your Mind for Success -- All success starts in the mind - what's in yours?

Has that second company asked to be advertised there?

Missing You!

Date Advice for Men --- Learn the "secret psychology" you need to attract any woman you want.

This one isn't particularly objectionable, just odd. They should have advertised on that last blog, considering its URL: more, no less

Penguin Place -- All things penguin. Retail shopping and information

The following blog is particularly not endorsed.
SF Liberal

USA Official Green Cards -- Green Card, Visas, DV Lottery Citizenship, Immigration Forms

Bretz & Coven - Law Firm --- Full service immigration law firm Get help now from a professional

But what really caught my eye are these types of ads:
Bleeding Brain

Survive Terrorism --- Protect yourself now from smallpox, dirty bombs, and martial law.

Terrorism Planning Guide--- Assisting families and businesses to prepare for a crisis.

Entre Nous

Stop the War Machine --- Anti-war lapel pins being sold to raise money for the anti-war movement

"What Liberal Media?" --- By Eric Alterman Buy it at Affiliate.

Thinking Meat
E. Nough's blog had not only the peace pins, but this:

War in Iraq: Is it Just? --- Is it ever appropriate for a nation to strike first? A new Bible study.

I was curious e. nough to click on the link, but I was no wiser as to what the Bible will say about first strikes. Or UN resolutions.

The first several times I saw these new ads, they were all for various anti-war type things. And they were all on pro-war blogs! (Of course, those are pretty much the only ones I read.) So I smelled a conspiracy, but it might just have been the petrochemicals, since the wind is from the south.

These are by no means the only kinds of ads. I saw one for subscriptions to Women's Day, and all day today Prof Bunyip has had Prozac ads up ("get prozar or generic direct from mexico and save"). Perhaps not coincidentally, the good Prof has not posted since Monday. Has he been taking his meds? (Bad professor! Bad!)

All punctuation and spelling are as in originals, by the way.

Blogger's ad-buying page says they're not taking new ads, because they're going to be revamping the way they do it. I hope this is the old vamp, and not the new. What would be the point of having your butt owned by HumonGooglous Corp if you had to sport the kinds of ads found in the back of Famous Knife Murders?

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Physics Phantasy Camp

On March 1, Erin O'Connor put up a post about a...thing...called a Tunnel of Oppression. From what I can gather, this is some sort of fun house/passion play/performance art/indoctrination center which apparently passes for education on some college campuses.

The idea, near as I can tell, is for student spectators to go through the "tunnel" and witness acts of "oppression", such as homelessness, domestic abuse, slavery, racism, and what have you. Erin has more here.

Big Arm Woman says:

What a lot of folks don't realize is that university housing programs, in a desperate bid to avoid privatization, have instituted "residence hall programming" designed to slap a veneer of scholarship over dormitory living...the bulk of their "programming" consists of diversity training...

I don't understand. When I was in college, the "residence halls" were prison-like blocks where you tried to sleep and avoided studying. There was a separate dining hall. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll were also somehow involved, but I had nothing to do with that. I can't remember them having any "programming", though it's possible they had seminars on dealing with stress and using the dorm's "files"---a collection of homework problems from previous students---as a study aid. (And that stress seminar will come in handy when your Physics TA finds out you and another girl have identical lab reports because you both copied verbatim from a report in the files.)

Now, in the comments to Erin's first post, David Foster comes up with a smashing idea:

Actually, I think this kind of thing has lots of potential. Why have classrooms, instructors, textbooks, etc? The college experience should be a set of rides and exhibits, more or less like Disney EPCOT but adjusted to be less intellectually challenging--we could have not only the "tunnel of oppression," but the "mountain of math," the "English Experience," and so on. Students could buy a ticket, ride through in comfort, have all of the proper beliefs instilled, and at the end collect a diploma. Professors would be liberated from the need to ever look at an undergraduate, much less talk to one.

This is terrific, and would be dead easy for physics.


Hello students, and welcome to Physics 101. Just to recap, you will experience the various physics exhibits, and be given credit for each one you pass (alive).

First up is the Kinetic Energy Gallery. My lovely assistant, Frank, will demonstrate the concept of kinetic energy---E = 1/2mv²---with this shotgun. Take it away, Frank.

Well done, Frank! Excellent shooting! Now, students, you'll notice how much more the buckshot hurt than the birdshot. This is because the buckshot pellets have greater mass. Please do not try this at home, we are professionals here. Young lady, you should get that wound looked at after class.

Next we have Rotational Energy. If you'll all just file into the centrifuge, please. Yes, this is just like the "Round-Up", at the carnival, isn't it? Only faster. Push the button, Frank. Now you'll not---I SAID, YOU'LL NOTICE THAT THE ACCELERATION YOU FEEL IS v²/r, or rw². YOU ARE BEING ACCELERATED TOWARD THE WALLS OF THE CHAMBER; IF THE WALLS WEREN'T THERE YOU'D BE FLUNG OUT INTO SPACE! OK, Frank, remove the walls.

Ahhh...what fun! That was always my favorite ride. Notice that you were flung in a direction tangent to the centrifuge, and did not continue with the rotation after the walls were removed.

Let's go on to the next exhibit. What's that? Still bleeding from KE, eh? Well, try not to get---TRY NOT TO GET ANY BLOOD ON THE EXHIBITS. THAT RINGING IN YOUR EARS SHOULD GO AWAY IN A FEW HOURS.


Well, well, we're nearly finished with Thermal Physics. We've done convection and radiation---more salve, anyone?---and now we'll do the final mode of heat transfer: conduction.

Well, young lady, since your shot wounds have stopped bleeding, would you like to hand me that bowl over there? The white one?

Oh, do stop being such a whiner. No, it won't hurt you. I swear, how do you expect to become a physicist if you don't experiment once in a while? Oh, all right, Frank, you pick it up. There. See, it doesn't hurt Frank. Give it to her, Frank.

Happy? The bowl is warm because it's been sitting on a heat source. Now, pick up the gray bowl next to it. We'll see that the gray bowl is much warmer because it has a higher thermal conductivity, whi---oh, now you've dropped the bowl. Yes, you big baby, it was hot. This is thermal physics, where we learn how things get hot. Let me see. Oh, those burns can't be more than second degree. Good grief, quit your crying and have some more salve.

Well, congratulations. Those of you who remain have passed the first half of the course, which deals with Classical Mechanics and Thermal Physics. The next half of the course deals with Electricity and Magnetism. Our first lesson will be in resistance---specifically, the resistance of the human skin. Young lady, I'm afraid you have not exactly covered yourself with glory---although you have with blood---so far. Perhaps you would care to redeem yourself by attaching these electrodes to your---wait, where are you going? Come back here, you coward!

Well, it seems as if Our Little Miss was not made of the stuff it takes to be a physicist, eh, gentlemen? Gentlemen? Where has every---hey! HEY! YOU DON'T GET A REFUND AT THIS STAGE, YOU KNOW!

Cravens. Well, Frank, it looks as if we're done for today. I'm sorry we didn't get to Atomic Physics. I know how much you enjoy the accelerator. Oh, all right, we'll go sit in the beam for a few minutes, and after that we can go watch The Amazing Colossal Man, how will that be?


There, wasn't that fun? Maybe I'll include it in my next job application.

My Heroes.

This is a GSU site on basic physics, which is pretty useful.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Do Cheetos Never Prosper?

Dave Barry, being a Real Journalist, has contacts throughout the shadowy world of snack foods, so he got an email from Bryce Wilson, who bought the giant Cheeto. When I blogged about this last week, I said that he'd bought it for "no adequately-explained reason". I stand by that statement.

I predict that in the future, "he bought the giant Cheeto" will become shorthand
for "he spent a great deal of money on a dubious scheme to bring fame and/or fortune".

Here's my favorite part:

Because, by displaying the Cheeto in a temple, I will be taking a large portion of food out of circulation, I've decided to put some back in. I'm now raising money for the local food pantry, all in the name of the Cheeto.

In the Name of the Cheeto, the Pop-Tart, and the Holy Ding Dong, let us pray...

Via Ken Layne.

Monday, March 10, 2003

The Prime Mover

I have this theory. It's in its early stages, so I'm not sure what to call it. Reading many press reports of current events, one gets the idea that the US is the Prime Mover.[*] That is, only the US can actually act; all other entities can only react to US actions. Often the reports, while critical of US actions, fail to note that others' reactions are not the only ones available. Actors are subject to criticism; those who can only react get a pass. Let's look at a specimen from the BBC:

Bush's struggle over N Korean threat
By Geraldine Carroll in Washington DC

The background here is the the US has been shipping fuel oil to North Korea, which burns it to generate electricity. That way, see, the North Koreans won't have to try to restart their nuclear reactor, which might accidentally produce plutonium, along with the electricity.

But last fall North Korea admitted (and, if I recall, then denied, then sort of hemmed and hawed) that it had a secret nuclear weapons program. So the US stopped the oil shipments. (It sounds as if they didn't need the plutonium from their reactors to make their nukes, if indeed they actually have nukes, rather than just a nuke program.)

Since then North Korea's been making a bunch of threats, vows, and demands. The Dear Leader has called the Cowboy-in-Chief out, now what's Bush going to do?

Poised to unleash war on Iraq, the Bush administration is under siege at home and abroad over its failure to ease the growing North Korean nuclear crisis.

This sets the tone for the article. Note the implication that the Bush administration is somehow responsible for the crisis, and therefore must be the one to ease it. By this I don't only mean the American administration as opposed to Japan, say, but also as opposed to North Korea.

Mr Bush is also being accused of standing by as Pyongyang prepares to crank up a reprocessing plant at Yongbyon which could churn out up to six nuclear bombs by midsummer, according to CIA estimates.

Ahh...our old friend, the passive voice: Bush "is accused", and furthermore "under siege", and "critics say"... Besides the ambiguous Carl Levin, below, only one other critic (former SecDef William Perry) is actually quoted, in a sentence I've snipped.

While it might be argued that this article is about Bush, and therefore it's not surprising that the (in-)actions of China, Russia, Japan, or South Korea are kept in the background, I'm left to wonder why this is about Bush, and not about, say, the failure of China to rein in its client, or whether the South Korean "sunshine policy" has softened or hardened North Korea's stance.

I'll also point out that Bush does not have many choices other than "standing by". Bush might talk to the North Koreans, but if they are determined to go ahead with their nuclear effort, then there's not a lot he can do.

Oh, sure, he could try a military solution, but somehow I don't think that would meet with the BBC's approval.

But US efforts to convene a regional forum on the crisis, including China and Russia, have so far appeared to make no progress.

Mr Bush himself did little to still criticism in a prime time news conference on Thursday night, simply repeating that North Korea was not a US problem alone.

"This is a regional issue. We've got a stake as to whether North Korea has a nuclear weapon. China clearly has a stake as to whether or not North Korea has a nuclear weapon," he said.

US officials see China and Russia as key to pressuring Pyongyang. But Beijing and Moscow want direct US-North Korean talks and have balked at a regional strategy.

Now here we see at least a slight hint that other countries can act, too; or in this case not act: Russia and China have balked.

But critics of the administration point out that Mr Bush's determination to use diplomacy to stop North Korea acquiring weapons of mass destruction sits at odds with the policy against Iraq.

There are also fears that allowing North Korea to go nuclear could ignite a domino effect.

Democrat Senator Carl Levin said Mr Bush could "send a horrendous message not just in Asia, but also to Iran and to other countries that are contemplating nuclear programmes."

Here the author trots out a critic for our inspection, but it's a rather vague criticism. Levin could as easily be criticizing the President for not being more bellicose, rather than more diplomatic. (Here is an article with a slightly longer quote, which doesn't really clear it up. We also see that Levin is always worried about sending horrendous messages to various groups.)

Analysts are particularly worried that Japan may feel compelled to match North Korea's nuclear aspirations, causing a suspicious China to look to augment its own modest atomic arsenal. That could prompt new atomic power grabs in chronically unstable South Asia.

This was the paragraph that spurred my interest. Japan feels compelled...causing China...prompting new power grabs... It's as inevitable as an avalanche, and all because of Bush! Bush does nothing, and this destabilizes an entire region, possibly, in the end, triggering a nuclear war! Tremble before the terrible inertia of Bush!

Mr Bush has given indications that the issue is personal, telling US journalist Bob Woodward in a recent book that he "loathes" Kim Jong-il.

"Cause he tried to kill my daddy. Wait, or was it that other fella. Drat, I always get these tyrants mixed up. Let me call Condi, she'll know..." It's always "personal" with Bush in the eyes of the European press, isn't it? How simplistic, loathing the Dear Leader and his merry band of butchers. I'll bet Bush's "faith" has something to do with that. A sophisticated man would simply "deplore" him (you have to wave your hand languidly when you say "deplore", for maximum sophistication).

The US president's outspokenness has damaged US relations with South Korea, which under former President Kim Dae-jung pioneered a "sunshine policy" of engaging the North.

Of course, the South Koreans have no choice but to consider the relationship "damaged".

Either the US president will have to do a deal with what he sees as the devil and decide to approve talks with North Korea - or see the isolated Communist state acquire a doomsday arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Well, this is fair enough, although they do neglect to mention any military option.

Basically, there's no way for George to win here. The US has been giving the North Koreans freshly-scrubbed carrots for not developing nuclear weapons. Now they want the weapons, but they want the carrots, too. So the US withdraws the carrot, and North Korea whines and screams and threatens to hold its breath until Japan turns blue.

At this point Bush's options seem to be: 1) do nothing, and let NK develop nukes; 2) give up stuff, and let NK develop nukes; 3) prevent NK from developing nukes by, um, nuking them. Or something.

None of these is a very good option. Option 3 is pretty extreme (technically, we wouldn't have to nuke them, we'd just have to do an Israelis-at-Osirak, and hope they don't actually have nukes yet), which wouldn't be real popular either.

For Bush to deal on Kim's terms would not be doing "a deal with the devil", but furnishing Hell to gain entry to Heaven. Now, since none of Bush's options are any good, he should go with that one. He'll give up stuff, and it won't slow the North Koreans down one damn bit, but he'll look like a Good Man Who Tried. This is a ticket to one free Peace Prize and a lifetime's supply of tedious impotent moralizing.

The trick, when you are the Prime Mover, is not to move.

[*] For those interested: Yes, I did try to find a cite which a) wasn't from a refutation page, and b) did not have godawful orange background, and also c) wasn't from a scary New Age website, but didn't have much luck.